Learn how a few, simple strategies that schools could implement can help students readjust to being back in school after the pandemic. This article highlights focused attention practices that can be incorporated into class time.
The start of the 2021–22 school year has been rough. Students across the world are experiencing “broken belongings”—a detachment from others—as the pandemic created conditions of relative isolation and a significant amount of chronic unpredictability within communities and home environments during the past 20 months.
We can observe this detachment in student behaviors, which are signals of a nervous system dysregulated by often toxic levels of stress. Our schools are being challenged to return to some type of normalcy even as we move through the third academic year of a global pandemic. The social loss our students are carrying is palpable.
Two mornings and afternoons a week, I am co-teaching in seventh-grade classrooms in a large middle school, and as I walk down Hallway B, I feel the tension in the air. As a staff, we are wondering how to reclaim feelings of safety and connection so that sustainable learning can occur. The nervous system is social, and has plasticity, but we require safety and a sense of belonging to access the frontal regions of the brain that hold our abilities to problem-solve, pay attention, emotionally regulate, and thoughtfully respond, which we all need to feel competent, autonomous, and motivated.
The destructive TikTok challenges that have gone viral in many of our secondary schools, accompanied by defiance and destruction of school property, are behaviors that demonstrate how distorted belonging feels better to students than the isolation of the recent past—these highly irrational challenges are often driven by the developmental need for attachment to others.
We need to harness students’ energy and attachment to each other, and follow the nature of the child. Our seventh-grade team has been meeting to cultivate ways we can begin to rebuild trust and connection through our procedures with the increase of predictability, safety, and relational conditions. We are and will be continuing to integrate these practices at the beginning and end of classes and during transitions.